Napalm Flesh: Ihsahn Interview

Posted June 28, 2012 in

Welcome to Napalm Flesh! This week, we have an interview with the prolific Norwegian musician Ihsahn. Formerly of black metal heavyweights Emperor, Ihsahn has been cultivating a solo career since 2006 and released his fourth solo album, Eremita, last week. We also have a rundown of this week’s metal events throughout Salt Lake.

Event Listings
Compiled by Bryer Wharton

Tonight,  Valient Thorr headlines In The Venue (all ages) with fellow touring bands Holy Grail and Royal Thunder with locals the Kickass and Merlins Beard. Tickets are $13, doors open at 7 pm.

Crucial Fest continues throughout the weekend with a variety of shows at all ages and 21+ venues in SLC. Check for the complete schedule.

Friday June 29, Tides of War (from Michigan) headlines Burt's (21+) with Eyes of Damnation, Burn Your World and Bloodpurge. $6 gets you in the door music at 9 pm.

Saturday, June 30, check out the Sonic Slaughterhouse or Metal Night, with metal tunes coming from the DJ skills of former SLUG metal writer “The Butcher.” No cover to get into Club Expose (21+), tunes at 9 pm.

Ihsahn Interview

Much like the inspiration for his experimental extreme metal meditations, Ihsahn's focus settles on the philosophical side of music. Using his deep knowledge and interest in music, he relates a compelling story about his solo career, starting with his first three albums, a trilogy exploring the mythological “outsider”. Now, with the release of his new album Eremita, he feels liberated from the constraints of the trilogy format. Giving himself the license to explore his thoughtful—and occasionally paranoid—realms of extreme metal, he speaks of the future and present prospects of his solo project.

SLUG: After was the capstone of your previous trilogy of albums. What do you feel is beginning with Eremita?
Ihsahn: I kind of like to think of it as the continuation of my work, as well as a new beginning. The reason I did a trilogy to start with was because I wanted to give myself the time span, and the room for three albums to build the musical foundation for this project. I kind of like where I ended up with After. There's still the ground foundation of what I guess you'd call extreme metal, but still with more room for experimentation. I gathered some technique and a little bit of confidence from working like this, and I wanted build on that further on this album. And you know, it's kind of liberated from the concept of the trilogy. I've always had the question, “will there be another trilogy?” This time around, I don't feel the need for it. I kind of liked the development of those three albums, and now I feel I want to explore more of the diversity of where this musical project is at.

SLUG: The word “Eremita” translates to “Hermit.” What is the significance of this album title?
Ihsahn: It reflects the album and my work on different levels. On the most mundane level, I guess it's um... you know, me—practically doing this more or less on my own. I work as a solo artist in my own studio, and play most of the instruments. It's kind of a solitary experience in itself. Apart from that—that's not the main reason I chose that title—is that I've always associated with these sorts of mythological figures, through my career, and through my work, that stand off to the side of the collective. You know, the typical outsider perspective. Through my whole career I've used Lucifer or Prometheus or Icarus. Through my solo albums, I've portrayed it as The Adversary and Angel. It's something I come back to. Through my whole solo career, Nietzsche has been a huge influence. He himself was kind of a philosophical hermit, especially in his own age. Of course, he writes about my favorite hermit, Zarathustra. In the end, the whole concept of the album is a lyrical scenario where the protagonist has to escape. But not in a typical Hermit philosophical way, it's rather more paranoid madness.

SLUG: You've often cited Nietzsche as an influence on your solo work. How do his ideas manifest in Eremita?
Ihsahn: I guess it's just manifest by his way of thinking. More, I would say, on the artistic side of things. Especially, the fascination with Nietzsche is that his philosophy and the sharpness of his aphorisms is more pragmatic. At the same time, I feel reading Nietzsche and the way between the lines you can almost read he felt a part of him was also an artist. He was an artistic spirit. I think he referred very much to dancing, in the sense that he means you can move between the very pragmatic, hard philosophy—how he says the “philosophy of the hammer”—to be very much to the point. At the same time, there's a duality in that. This pragmatism does not exclude the artistic and more metaphysical experience of life. When he refers to dancing, I think he also means moving smoothly between those two outer points. That's something I find very fascinating and inspiring.

SLUG: Jørgen Munkeby's saxophone sounds really natural on After and Eremita. What made you decide to incorporate that instrument?
Ihsahn: The basic reason for that was me listening to a lot of Jan Garbarek in the mid-'90s. He was a Norwegian saxophone player who had this very epic landscape-like composition. The saxophone has... often been looked upon as very mundane and boring instrument very traditionalist dance music, especially in Scandinavia. The sonic imprint that has stuck with me is the very solitary and lonely sound. For After, where most of my inspiration was very still and desolate landscapes, I had seen all these pictures of surface shots from Mars and the Siberian steppe landscape. Everything was kind of lifeless and wide and open. So in that atmosphere, I finally found space in my music where I thought, “Finally, I can use the saxophone. It will be perfect for this.” The collaboration with Jørgen is kind of a long story. Having him, that was really a lucky strike because he possesses not just technicality, but an ability to interpret music from rather abstract directions—it's very fascinating. Since our collaboration on After, he has also become a good friend, so it was kind of natural to bring him along again.

SLUG: I'm glad that you're able to work with somebody who's kind of able to interpret your music back to you, and give you something fresh and new to work with.
Ihsahn: It's so refreshing, especially for me as I put on most of the hats throughout most of the whole production of an album. It's makes it a little more refreshing for me to have to listen back to the album itself. You know, when someone else has also been able to add a little color to it that I'm not too self-conscious about.

SLUG: How did you meet the guys in your live backing band, the members of Leprous? What's the nature of your working relationship with their keyboardist and vocalist Einar Solberg, who did some of the vocals on Eremita?
Ihsahn: Well, mostly just on the first song, to be honest. Most of them are about ten years younger than me. Actually, the two guitar players used to be my guitar students when they were younger. So, I guess I helped in their development as guitar players in the first place. Also, Einar is my youngest brother-in-law. Me and my wife actually bought him his first keyboard. So, it's all very natural that we kept in touch with them, and we recorded their last album here in our studio. Beyond that, as a band, they are super talented. They have developed into fantastic musicians, and there's no way I could have done live shows without them. I always score my music, so I can just send it to them, and by the time I come to the rehearsal room, they will already know all of the songs. It's all a matter of putting the set together. That is very professional. Traveling with them, they are very serious about what they do, and no drinking or partying or anything, so totally reliable. That kind of took away my pressure of playing live. It took away all the chaotic environments you had to do that in. They read music, so you're not sitting there pointing at the guitar neck. They don't have to try to learn a part. That's so comfortable. These are great guys, and I think their music in Leprous is also very different from mine, and I don't think people compare the two. For both of our bands, it's kind of a win-win situation. For example, in December I went to Japan to do three shows, and Leprous managed to get the opening spot on the show. So we try to, you know, help each other out.

On the subject of touring, besides Prog Power which you played in 2011, have you made any other plans for the visiting the United States again?
Ihsahn: Well, I had some offers that I wasn't able to go through with. I know that Candlelight Records is working on making something happen in support of the new album. Nothing is really settled yet. There's a little more things that have to come into place for a Norwegian band coming to the states, like working visas. There are lots of other expenses compared to traveling a lot of other places on the globe. As a solo artist, I'm not Emperor, so I haven't really played the states much other than this one show. It's really up to the promoters, if we can actually find a prompt way to make it work. On the second hand, I would love to be able to do that, because every time I've come to play in the states, I've had a really good time. With Leprous, the organization, and the people I've had around this project, it makes it all more easy.

SLUG: As your own style has grown and developed, what has been your perspective on contemporary metal?
Ihsahn: I'm not really the right person to ask. I've never been very good at following “the scene”, if you will. When I listen to music, I always seek out inspiration for something, I always end up listening to other genres of music, and different perspectives. So, I'm not really that up-to-date. Unfortunately, probably it's just me getting old. For me, I think it's a bit sad that everybody starts sounding the same. I've had somebody get in the car, and we get sent these cover band CDs from our production company. I'll listen to some of those, and there's like 14 or 15 bands, and you can tell them apart, but the production and the way they do things is absolutely similar. If you don't listen closely, you can't really tell these bands apart. The production ideal has become so common. It's hard to get a lot of diversity in there.

SLUG: What events do you see in the future of your solo project?
Ihsahn: I would really like to just continue to do what I do right now. I think I have a perfect balance of work for myself, to release an album every second year. There's a lot of creative freedom within the project, but also making albums and releasing albums at that rate, and playing more one-off shows. Primarily doing festivals or kind of short, very short tours. Right now, me and my wife are working on music for a poetry book. I feel the diversity I like when working with music, but I don't really have any other goals than to keep my project exciting for myself and try to put out the best albums I can.